Do Ladder Safety Accessories Really Improve Safety?

After much research, Steve Taylor, Managing Director for European Building Innovations brings us the debate of whether Ladder Safety Accessories have the potential to save lives.

Might the introduction of ladder safety accessories to the Australian market reduce the growing number of ladder related accidents? According to Steve, and he should know, you first need an understanding of how most ladder accidents occur.

Ladder accidents generally occur via one of the four following failures:

  1. Base Slip of a ladder occurs when a loss of grip or friction occurs at the base points (or feet) of the ladder. This results in the base of the ladder sliding away from the vertical surface (or wall) and is normally associated with the low grip surface at the ladder base.
  2. Top Slip occurs when the top of the ladder moves side ways against the vertical surface to the point where the ladder system becomes unstable and there is a complete lateral failure. This type of failure is immediate and results in the user falling to the side of the ladder system.
  3. Flip Failure occurs when all the forces on the ladder system are directed through a single stile, such that a rotation occurs. This causes the ladder to flip around so that the side which was facing the vertical surface now faces away from it.
  4. Loss of Top Contact is where the top of the ladder moves away from the vertical surface, primarily in the plane of the ladder.

The UK building industry has invested much time and effort into increasing ladder safety over the past 10 – 12 years and it can be confidently said that the UK industry is well ahead in regards to ladder safety regulations, compared with Australia. One of the major successes in reducing ladder related accidents can be attributed to the introduction of ladder anti-slip devices which address all of the four above failure points. Let’s look at some of the ladder related accident statistics from the UK:

A third of all reported fall-from-heights incidents in the UK involve ladders and stepladders. On average this accounts for 14 deaths and 1200 major injuries to workers each year. Many of these injuries are caused by inappropriate or incorrect use of the safety equipment. (1)

Falling from heights continues to be the most common type of fatal accident when working at heights is concerned. Statistics indicate that between the periods of 1996/97 to 2005/06 fatal injuries reduced by 52% with the introduction of ladder safety accessories and operator education programs. In particular, ‘high falls’ (over 2 metres) reduced from an average of 48 per year to 26, over the last five years. (2)

In Australia, research from the Monash University and the Alfred Hospital was released which shows that the number of people in Victoria alone admitted to hospitals following a fall from a ladder, has increased by 39% over the past five years. In June 2001 the number of admissions to hospital from people suffering from ladder related injuries over six months was 221; however by June 2005 this figure had risen sharply to 363. Similarly, the number of people admitted to hospital June 2001 for injuries that had been caused by ladders for non work related purpose was 374 and by June 2005, this figure had increased to 567. (3)

In addition, WorkCover reported that from 1985 – 2007 falls from heights cost industry $1.3 millions dollars in claim payments alone. (4)

At least 83 Australians have died during the past five years after falling from their ladders and thousands more have been seriously injured. (5) The ladder related deaths averages out over the five years to be approximately 16 Australian deaths per year. The UK has a population almost 3 times greater than Australia. So to compare yearly ladder related death figures, Australia should in theory have 3 times less deaths related to ladder falls than the UK. With this theory in mind, in Australia we should on average only have 5 deaths per year related to ladder accidents if we are on par with the UK.

The introduction and the availability of ladder safety devices in the UK in conjunction with safe working at height practices has been responsible for the reduction in numbers of ladder related accidents and deaths. Ladder anti-slip devices are encouraged to be placed at the base of ladders whenever a ladder is being used. Anti-slip devices work by increasing base frictional forces where the foot of the ladder makes contact with the ground. Such anti-slip devices address one or more, if not all of the four failure points mentioned above.

Here is Australia, organisations such as WorkSafe Victoria, David Caple & Associates, Master Painters Association and the Construction, Farming, Mining and Energy Union are aware that more needs to be done in this nation to increase safety when working at heights. As such, an initiative has been implemented by WorkSafe Victoria to identify and test innovative safety accessories. Results of the initiative will be made available to the building and trade industries via a website to be established by David Caple & Associates.

The aim of the web site will be to educate workers and companies to the new range of safety products that are available in Australia. European Building Innovations has a wide range of ladder safety accessories that are new to the Australian market. Some of these accessories, which are already widely used in the UK, are being trialed and tested as part of the WorkSafe Victoria initiative.  

When comparing ladder related accident statistics from the UK (where the use of ladder safety accessories is the norm) and Australia (where the use of ladder safety accessories is in its infancy), it is highly likely that wider use and acceptance of ladder safety accessories can safe lives and may help prevent many permanent injuries.  

(1) The Work at Height Regulations 2005: A brief guide leaflet INDG401HSE Books 2005

Written by:
Steve Taylor
Managing Director European Building Innovations

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

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